A live video stream from a c-drone was relayed to the fire chief's command post during the battle to save Notre Dame. Image: French Interior Ministry

Notre Dame de Paris: police c-drone team provides crucial view to fire chief

Emergency response

The firemen who saved Notre Dame de Paris cathedral Monday evening had a modern tool at their disposal: a c-drone which flew overhead, piloted by the Parisian police who coordinated with the fire chief on the ground. Contacted, the Prefecture de Paris declined to provide information about their drone team, citing security reasons. However, a source in Paris has confirmed to the C-Drone Review that drones by Chinese manufacturer Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) were indeed flown by the police; these included at least one Mavic Pro model.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Plus, spokesman for the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP), told France Info radio after the fire was under control:

It’s thanks to these drones, this absolutely indispensable tool we have today, that we were able to make the tactical decisions necessary to stop the fire at the moment it could have potentially spread to the two belfries. The drones allowed us to best deploy the resources we had.

On France Info television today, Lieutenant-Colonel José Vaz de Matos, cultural heritage inspector for the fire brigade, told journalists that if the fragile north belfry had caught fire, the cathedral could have collapsed. Eight bells are supported by a wooden treillis in the north belfry, two massive “bourdons” (“bumblebees”) in the south belfry; the collapse of these could have brought down the towers and the cathedral behind, he said.

A spokesman for DJI France told The C-Drone Review:

Our tools may have played a small role, but it is mainly the professionalism, high level of training and the bravery of the firemen who prevented this fire from completely destroying the cathedral.

Four hundred firemen fought the blaze for nine hours, drawing water directly from the Seine River yet being careful to adjust the water flow below maximum to avoid overloading the vaulted arches of the stone ceiling with the weight of too much water.

The government, wealthy French families and major corporations have already pledged more than €850 million ($960 million) for reconstruction of the medieval cathedral, which French President Emmanuel Macron hopes can be completed in time for the 2024 Olympics.

Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and its attic of wood (over the stone vaults and under the lead roof) was called the “forest” due to the large number of 12th century tree trunks there. There was originally a 13th century clock spire over the transept, which was dismantled just before the Revolution; a tall, thin spire of wood and lead was added by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. The fire seems to have started in the scaffolding erected last year surrounding the base of the spire; when the spire collapsed, its weight of over 500 tons broke through two of the cathedral’s vaults and rained lead inside the nave and choir, preventing firemen from entering. The brigade sent in a motorized robot by Shark Robotics called “Colossus” to inspect the interior during the fire, another technological innovation.

C-drones equipped with visual and thermal cameras are increasingly being used by fire departments as an efficient solution for situational awareness. The New York Fire Department first deployed drones several years ago. Fotokite, a Swiss company with offices in Syracuse, New York, presented just last week a tethered “kite” drone solution available from Pierce Manufacturing, a top supplier of emergency vehicles.